EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — CJ Cicchino, the volunteer coordinator at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, started working in the pantry almost three years ago as a volunteer.
He started with one shift, then added another to his schedule, then a third. He also started working with the mobile food pantry.
“For many people, that’s how it starts,” Cicchino said. “We have the best volunteers.”
The food bank, a program that feeds the hungry in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, is always in need of more volunteers, Cicchino said. At the Community Access Pantry in the township, there are 880 volunteer hours needed to be filled each week to distribute close to 1 million pounds of food each month.
Renate Taylor, development officer, said the pantry has increased its distribution by more than 230 percent since July, and it’s the volunteers who make it happen.
“It is absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s the restoration of human dignity at its finest.”
The organization is all volunteer-driven, Taylor said. Volunteers work with fund and food drives, the pantry onsite, the mobile pantry, food sorting and packing, and office support.
One of those volunteers is Jack Lieberman, of Brigantine, a retiree who has been working at the pantry for more than four years.
After his wife died, he decided to get out of the house and help others.
“I saw the effect it had on people that need help,” he said of working in the pantry. “It accomplished something for them and something for myself.”
Lieberman works a six-hour shift once a week unpacking and sorting donations and stocking shelves.
He said there’s “plenty of opportunity” for seniors to volunteer.
“If there’s any doubt, they ought to come down here and see the clients and the impact,” he said. “A half an hour or an hour will be the inspiration they need.”
Volunteers as young as 12 to 15 years old can come with a parent or guardian, Cicchino said. Young adults ages 16 to 17 need a parent to sign an intake form their first time but can come on their own after that.
Current volunteers range from high school and college students and faith-based youth groups to retirees and corporations. Shifts start at just two hours.
“You are all welcome here,” Taylor said. “Our volunteers are a mosaic of beautiful people who treat our clients with honor and respect.”